Bill Gates has always been one of the tech industry’s brightest minds. But decades before he was known as a benevolent, beloved philanthropist, he earned a reputation as the brilliant young jerk at Microsoft’s helm.
Today’s older, wiser, mellower Gates gave a nod to his younger self in the annual letter he published with his wife, Melinda, on Tuesday.
In the letter, Gates discussed a touching encounter he had with a teen anger-management group called Becoming a Man, which supports at-risk youth and teaches them how to get through difficulties without ruining their lives.
It happened after he and Melinda spent an afternoon at a Georgia prison “to learn more about the link between poverty and mass incarceration,” she wrote, adding that the inmates they met described themselves as basically good people who made terrible decisions in the heat of the moment.
BAM has “drawn a lot of attention for its success,” Melinda Gates wrote. “A study by the University of Chicago found that BAM reduces its participants’ violent crime arrests by almost half.”
So Bill Gates went to a BAM meeting — and instead of just observing, he participated.
“I had no idea how moving it would be,” he wrote. The boys talked about the things that made them angry, from typical teenage frustrations with a teacher to the trauma of having a friend who’d been shot.
When it was Gates’ turn to share, he said he had gotten angry at the increasing number of polio cases, as his foundation had helped to almost eradicate that disease. But he said the experience caused him to do a little soul-searching too on what he was like when he was younger.
“Growing up, if I thought my parents were being unfair, I could be pretty harsh with them,” he said. “When I was at Microsoft, I was tough on people I worked with. Some of it helped us be successful, but I’m sure some of it was over the top.”
Gates had quite the reputation as a terror back in the day. He was known to get into shouting matches with rivals and to yell at or use condescending language with employees at meetings. In a 2011 interview with “60 Minutes,” the Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen described his relationship with Gates in those days in hellish terms.
That’s all water under the bridge. Today, Gates is revered by the 1,500 employees of his foundation, not to mention the 135,000 Microsoft employees.
“Learning to deal with your anger was something we all related to,” he wrote in the letter. “It’s an important life skill, part of becoming a mature adult.”
Another part of being a mature, admirable adult? Being able to admit when you were wrong, even many years later.